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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dead Rising (Xbox 360)

I couldn't wait for my review copy of Dead Rising to show up in the mail, so I went ahead and bought it at Fry's ($50 bucks, baby!).

After fiddling for too long with my projector and surround sound setup (I currently can't mount my projector to the ceiling, because I need to re-route some electrical, and I had a dead channel on the audio I had to chase down), I started playing the game around 10 p.m.

Freaking awesome.

I mean, it's kind of like what I expected (and got a taste of from the demo), but it's also a little deeper than I expected. I'm also only 12 game-hours in (~1.5 real-world hours).

It's a sandbox game, but the mini-missions (and mini-game inspiring achievements) make it a lot of fun. I'm currently playing "72 Hour Mode", and since that's the only mode available out of the box, but it's selectable, I'm guessing more are going to be added.

Killing zombies in creative ways (hedge trimmers, strategically placed propane tanks, toolboxes, shopping cart, park benches, barbells, etc.) is great fun, but the fact that there's a deeper, semi conspiracy story that unfolds piece by piece keeps the pace moving. I also found myself interrupted mid-mission as I stumbled across another scenario I'd ignored, and got to choose again whether I wanted to pursue that path.

And I'm glad I messed with my 5.1 audio -- the only way to play this game. The Dolby Digital is incredibly well done, and that positional audio is key to identifying zombies sneaking up on me, and for immersing me in the story as folks run up stairs behind me, cross from the left to right sound field, etc.

Also, some of the in-game mechanics (blender, microwave, etc.) are pretty slick. I like the photo mechanic, and the intro fly by tutorial and the ass-annoying Kent "I'm-not-a-tutorial-tutorial" are decent at getting you into that mechanic without doing too much "Show, don't tell".

Speaking of "Show, don't tell", there are a lot of cut-scenes in this game. Normally OK for me, because they're decently done. But they're not great, and they keep interrupting the flow of the game. I'm getting into a zombie-killing, food-chomping groove, and (at least the beginning), had to constantly drop the controller to watch YAC (Yet Another Cutscene). I wonder what CliffyB would say about these?

Oh, and the aiming mechanic sucks. Horribly. Having to use the pistol to cap a guy running across rooftops was painful. It also speaks to a larger problem, which is the inability to customize controls. I hate that the aiming kicks you over to using the left, rather than intuitive right, thumbstick, and I can't do anything about it. And, I'd like to implement a Halo-esque control scheme when I play (what can I say? Bungie pwns me).

Some of the mini-missions are tough, and you can't turn off "friendly fire", so if you've got a survivor being eaten by a pack of zombies, you're likely to whack them unintentionally (pruning shears are not scalpels, kids!).

And the "Mother's Lament" mini mission pissed me off. Because I'm not sure it's balanced well, starting it is a beast, the difficulty makes staying sympathetic to someone we should be sympathetic to a chore, and I feel the set up is definitely over the line. But I'm sensitive on that front.

Final gripe -- fantastic audio, but where's the voice acting? Seriously, the cut scenese are well-voiced, but the interactions in between are text and Sims-like grunts and noises (I have the same gripe with my favorite X-Men Legends games). C'Mon, this is next gen -- immerse me in the experience!

That sounds like a laundry list of gripes, but it just keeps the game from being spectacular. My gut feel says it's about an 8.4 out of 10, but I need to play it some more to be sure.

More to come ...

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